Social Security is a national pension that is usually for adults age 62 or older. But in addition to retirement benefits for life and spousal benefits, Social Security benefits may also go to children.
According to the Social Security Administration at SSA.gov, there are approximately 4.4 million children who receive $2.5 billion in aid each month.
When a parent dies, retires, or becomes disabled, children may qualify for Social Security benefits. They are intended to help provide for them through age 18, or high school. Once the child graduates high school, he or she is legally an adult and no longer qualifies for Social Security benefits.
The law also protects unmarried, dependent kids who were being cared for by the deceased, disabled, or elderly grandparents. This is an important safety net.
Social Security Is Protection For Your Family
As a working parent, you are a source of Social Security protection for your family. If either parent retires, dies or becomes disabled and unable to work, his or her earnings would be partially replaced by monthly Social Security payments.
When you start receiving Social Security retirement or disability benefits, other family members also may be eligible for payments. For example, benefits can be paid to your spouse:
- If he or she is age 62 or older; or
- At any age if he or she is caring for your child. (The child must be younger than 16 or disabled and receiving Social Security benefits on your record.)
Benefits also can be paid to your unmarried children if they are:
- Younger than 18;
- Between 18 and 19 years old, but in elementary or secondary school as full-time students; or
- Age 18 or older and severely disabled (the disability must have started before age 22).
If you should die, your family may be eligible for benefits based on your work. Family members who can collect benefits include a widow or widower who is:
- 60 or older; or
- 50 or older and disabled; or
- Any age if he or she is caring for your child who is younger than 16 or disabled and receiving Social Security benefits.
Your children can receive benefits, too, if they are unmarried and:
- Younger than 18 years old; or
- Between 18 and 19 years old, but in an elementary or secondary school as full-time students; or
- Age 18 or older and severely disabled (the disability must have started before age 22).
In addition, your parents can receive benefits on your earnings if they were dependent on you for at least half of their support.
If you had enough credits, a one-time payment of $255 also will be made after your death. This benefit may be paid to your spouse or minor children if they meet certain requirements.
There is a limit to the amount of monthly benefits that can be paid to a family. The limit is generally equal to about 150 to 180 percent of the worker's benefit rate. If the sum of the benefits payable to family members exceeds this limit, the benefits will be reduced proportionately for each family member.
How Much Work Is Needed For Children To Have Benefits?
The amount of work you need to qualify for Social Security benefits depends on how old you are when you retire, become disabled or die. The younger you are, the less work you need.
Parents under age 24 need as little as one and one-half years of work under Social Security for their children to receive Social Security benefits. The amount of work needed increases with age. But you would not need more than 10 years of work to be covered for all benefits.
Career And Homemaking
If you alternate between a career and homemaking, you need to be aware that you can maintain your full Social Security protection with a little attention. Any Social Security credits you earn remain on your record. And after ten years of work in which you have earned the maximum of four credits each year, you are fully covered for retirement, disability, and survivors benefits
For disability benefits, you also need to have recent work. For example, if you're over age 30, you need five years of work out of the last 10 years (20 credits). Younger workers need less, as little as year and a half of work out of the past three years. Thus, homemakers need to periodically check their recent work status to make sure they still meet the requirements for the valuable disability protection.
Benefits For Disabled Children
A child who is disabled may depend on your help for a lifetime. Social Security has two programs that pay benefits to disabled children:
- Social Security Disability Insurance; and
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Disabled Children Under 18 Years Old
Social Security makes payment under the SSI program to disabled children under 18 whose families have little income and resources. SSI payments are based on need rather than prior work. They may be paid to children regardless whether a parent is retired, disabled or has died. These benefits also continue as long as the child is disabled and has little income or resources.
A child under 18 is considered disabled if his or her physical or mental condition is so severe that it results in marked and severe functional limitations. The condition must last or be expected to last at least 12 months. Or it must be expected to result in the child's death. And of course, the child must not be working at a job that we consider to be substantial work.
Disabled Children 18 Years Or Older
If you retire, become disabled, or die, Social Security benefits may be paid to your children over 18 who have been disabled before the age of 22 and continue to be disabled. Social Security benefits for disabled children may continue as long as they are unable to work because of their disability.
How to Receive Benefits
You must apply in person. First, the family must present the child’s birth certificate, the parents' Social Security numbers and the child’s Social Security number. There may be additional documents required as well. Depending upon the circumstances, the applicant must provide a parent’s death certificate and/or evidence of disability from a doctor.
If your child is disabled, the Social Security Administration has a fact sheet and starter packet to help you navigate the process of receiving benefits. This information will guide you along the path to sign up for and obtain benefits. And it includes a frequently asked questions section as well.
If you are taking care of a child and are receiving benefits, then his or her benefits may stop at a different time than your own. For example, if the child is not disabled, then the caretaker's benefits will terminate when the child turns 16 years old.
If the child is disabled and you have responsibility for and control of the child, then your benefits may continue. For these types of specific circumstances, it’s best to contact the Social Security Administration.
As an example, let's look at a case of an elderly parent — named June — with a dependent child. June’s full retirement amount is $1,500 and her family maximum is $2,300. June would receive her full $1,500 per month, and her husband, John, and their dependent child, Ruth, would split the remaining $800 payment ($2,300 to $1,500); each would receive $400.
Know Your Social Security Benefits
Social Security was never meant to be one’s primary or sole retirement income source. It was assumed that retirement would be like a three-legged stool. Social Security is one leg, company pension is the 2nd leg and personal savings i the 3rd leg.
There was a balance – government, business & individual each managed one leg of the stool.
As time passed, company pensions went the way of the dodo bird as was replaced by 401(k) programs. Now the three legs can be thought of as 1) your 401(k), IRA, and other tax-advantageous accounts, 2) your after-tax investment accounts and savings, 3) your personal hustle.
That said, Social Security is still an important benefit for many Americans, even if it is underfunded by roughly 23% as of 2019. In other words, whatever benefits the SSA says you will get, cut it down by 23%. Or expect to receive the benefit later in life.
The average Social Security benefit is about $1,543/month. It's not enough to sustain a healthy retirement, but it does help.
Finally, if you're single with no kids, know that all the FICA taxes you paid in your career will go back to the government.
If you're looking to get disability insurance, check out Policygenius. They are a marketplace that aggregates free disability insurance quotes all in one place so you don't have to go looking around. If you have dependents, getting supplemental disability insurance is a good idea.
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